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A time for team

school of sport:with TIM MIDDLETON

OVER the years, Zimbabwe has produced an extraordinary number of extremely talented golfers, with Nick Price perhaps being the most well-known and most successful of them all with three victories in golf’s Majors (the PGA Championship in 1992 and 1994 and the Open also in 1994), followed by Mark McNulty, Tony Johnstone and Simon Hobday (who between them won over 100 professional golf tournaments) right through to Lewis Chitengwa who died aged 26 before being able to fulfil the tremendous promise shown when he defeated Tiger Woods in the 1992 Orange Bowl Junior Championship in Florida. David Leadbetter, who went on to become one of the most
sought-after golf coaches, was another one to come from Zimbabwe.

It is interesting to note (in a recent book in which a wide array of Zimbabwean golfers share their experiences of getting involved and continuing in golf) that all the golfers were also very talented in other sports at school (playing for school teams, especially but not exclusively in cricket, rugby and tennis) and in some cases even after school, even at provincial and national level (Hobday played rugby for Northern Rhodesia while Peter Matkovich, the celebrated golf course designer, played rugby for Rhodesia). Some lamented the fact that schools placed a large emphasis on team sports which meant that the youngsters only had time for golf in the school holidays.

Nick Price was even quoted as saying his “Head only acknowledged team sports which I found rather hypocritical as he was a big squash fan”.

Three points perhaps stand out in that regard. Firstly, none of the golfers seem to have suffered in their subsequent golf careers by not having been able to focus on golf alone while at school. Secondly, they perhaps did not understand the real reason why the schools did not allow pupils to focus on individual sports but rather forced everyone to play team sports. Thirdly, these golfers have all gone on to discover that a golfer and his caddie are in fact a key team.

In simple terms, schools require pupils to play team sports for the lessons that can be learned in them. Many lessons that will emanate from an individual sport will also be learned in the academic classrooms in the mornings but the lessons that can be gained from team sports are not found there. It is not because the Head does not like individual sports or prefers team sports; it is because there is much more to be gained in the short time there is, from team sports. Furthermore, it would be argued that youngsters can still develop in their individual sports beyond the school, far more easily than they could with team sports.

Team sports alone teach youngsters that other people rely greatly on how we perform and similarly that we rely greatly on other people. In fact, one of those golfers, George Harvey (who was also a talented cricket all-rounder and strong swimmer) stated that “I loved all sport but what I did not like about team sport was being on a losing side because somebody else didn’t shape up. I liked being in control of whether I won or lost.” He had important lessons to learn, for sure. We have to understand the need to support, encourage, and indeed achieve, not just for ourselves, but for others. Furthermore, team sports help youngsters to understand that everyone must play their part and that everyone has a different but equally important role to play in the team. We cannot just think of ourselves; that is a lesson that is vital for us all in life, not just in work, family or sport.

Lastly, one further relevant point stands out. All the golfers commented on how much they enjoy playing for their country or for the Internationals’ team in the Ryder Cup-style fixture against the US for the Presidents’ Cup; they love to be part of a team, all the more so when golf competitively can be an extremely lonely sport. Having played team sport at school, they have learned essential lessons for such a competition. Brendan de Jonge, who also played cricket for Zimbabwe Schools and even considered pursuing a career in cricket before opting for golf, shared that, “What I do miss about cricket is the team aspect and the interaction between players.” Team sport very definitely has a place in the curriculum, even for those who may be more talented in individual sports. There must always be times for teams; there is no price too big to pay for that!

l Tim Middleton is a former international hockey player and headmaster, currently serving as the Executive Director of the Association of Trust Schools Email: ceo@atschisz.co.zw

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